Evolutionary divergence of humans from chimpanzees likely occurred some 8 million years ago rather than the 5 million year estimate widely accepted by scientists, a new statistical model suggests.
The revised estimate of when the human species parted ways from its closest primate relatives should enable scientists to better interpret the history of human evolution, said Robert D. Martin, curator of biological anthropology at the Field Museum, and a co-author of the new study appearing in the journal Systematic Biology. Here is a link to the article: http://sysbio.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2010/11/04/sysbio.syq054.full.html?ijkey=CaQif1LgTAd7xOD&keytype=ref
Working with mathematicians, anthropologists and molecular biologists, Martin has long sought to integrate evolutionary information derived from genetic material in various species with the fossil record to get a more complete picture.
Comparing DNA among related animals can provide a clear picture of how their shared genes evolved over time, giving rise to new and separate species, Martin said. But such molecular information doesn't yield a timetable showing when the genetic divergence occurred.
Fossil evidence is the only direct source of information about long-extinct species and their evolution, Martin and his colleagues said, but large gaps in the fossil record can make such information difficult to interpret. For a generation, paleontologists have estimated human origins at 5 million to 6 million years ago.
But that estimate rests on a thin fossil record. By looking at all of today's primate species, all of the known fossil primates and using DNA evidence, computer models suggest a longer evolutionary timetable. The new analysis described in the Systematic Biology paper takes into account gaps in the fossil record and fills in those gaps st
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